How to write an Executive Summary?

Also know as: executive synopsis, management synopsis, executive abstract, executive value proposition, management summary, abstract, versus executive summary, winning theme, proposal executive summary, win theme, executive summary versus abstract summary, vs. executive summary letter proposal executive summary, RFP response executive summary, abstract vs. executive summary, Request for Proposal executive summary, or RFP executive summary.

What is an Executive Summary?

Executive Summary definition: An Executive Summary is, basically, anything but a product presentation, and nothing but a sales pitch. Far more than an abstract merely presenting the rest of the proposal, it's your unique opportunity to convince the reader that your proposal provides the best value proposition: the best benefit at the lowest cost. The more technical your proposal, the more critical the executive summary is likely to be.

Given the proposal cover letter is not part of the proposal per se, the executive summary remains the most important section of your proposal. Keep in mind the executive summary is the only part of your proposal that will be read by each and any member of the decision panel, if any. More important, experience tells you in reality that it's the only part that an executive, a person who has the definitive power over the final decision, will read from your proposal.

Common misspellings: exective summary, execitive summary, eccutive summary, managment summary, excutive summary, executive sumary, executive summry, or eecutive summary.

Writing an Executive Summary

By writing your Executive Summary first, you ensure the rest of your proposal to be aligned with the persuasive message you want to deliver.

You said Executive Summary, not abstract

This is the "executive summary vs. abstract summary" battle. All so-called experts say that you should write the executive summary like an abstract, that is, when the rest of your proposal is written. Because this part is called the summary of the whole document, logic dictates that you should write the document first in order to be able to summarize it.

And that's exactly the pitfall to avoid when writing an executive summary for your proposal: the executive summary is not an abstract. We may even say, paradoxically, that the executive summary, unlike the abstract, is not a summary, it's your value proposition, your best, unique opportunity to sell your solution!

To stand out from your competitors, read Abstract vs. Executive Summary: Discover The Main Differences.

You've said executive summary as a value proposition

Indeed, by doing so, you give an opportunity to people, particularly technical, who will write the rest of the document not to be aligned with your initial objective which is to focus on benefits (to be persuasive) instead of features (to be demonstrative).

At the contrary, we highly recommend you to write the executive summary first. Don't you think a well-written value proposition should be done first? Indeed, it will act as guidance for other people for writing the rest of the document and ensure a consistent winning theme. Furthermore, to be executive, the summary should be readable by non-technical people and, therefore, should not overwhelm the reader with too much technical information, if any, or too many details.

By keeping your executive summary concise and precise, you will enable the reader to seize your point quickly. An amazing consequence is that, following the rule of electricity saying that current takes the path presenting the least resistance, evaluators and decision makers, guided by their human nature advising them to save resources for later, will pick up the shortest or lightest proposal first. If it's yours, it will serve as a metric for the rest of the evaluation process. Should your message be persuasive, the reader won't find a better proposition.

What is a winning theme?

Have you ever heard about Continuous Business Alignment (CBA)? It's a not-that-well-known management discipline that makes sure an organization, as a whole, is aligned to its customers' needs. More specifically, it ensures, in fact, that all services and work forces, namely employees, are focused on proper, continuous, circular alignment of processes with both their strategy (organization's mission statement) and their tactics (business goals and objectives). Use win themes as CBA tools to stay on the right track, and thus be able to hit your target.

So, a winning theme, also called win theme, is acting as a CBA tool to ensure the rest of the proposal is aligned to the strategy and tactics defined in order to better persuade the evaluation team that the proposed solution fits all, and sometimes exceeds the requirements set forth in the Request for Proposals (RFP), Invitation to Bid (ITB), or Invitation for Bids (IFB).

How to decide on a winning theme?

Winning themes ensure your writing to be aligned with both your strategy and tactics. Several win themes can and should support and substantiate your overall strategy within the same proposal. For instance, if your overall strategy is cost reduction, win themes could non exhaustively be:

  • faster delivery, same job but less time;
  • lower risk, lowered probability of loss;
  • higher return of investment (ROI), accrued benefits;
  • better environmental impacts, lowered toll to Mother Nature;
  • outsourcing, mitigation of operations coping with fluctuant costs;
  • faster completion of tasks, increased productivity;
  • rationalization of operations, chopping extra, worthless processes;
  • and so on...

As we said, you should use several of them, the ones that reflect the most your strategy.

Executive summary, executive summary, executive summary, ...

Think about executive summary as executive, then summary, as follows:

  1. Executive first. Intended for managers. Focus on value proposition, i.e. expected value, utility, associated costs, and total cost of ownership (TCO). Write it first, it will serve as guidelines for the rest of the proposal, and then
  2. Summary last. When the proposal is written or almost, make sure no important idea or information is buried and, therefore, missing in the executive summary. It's like a Q&A process.

The only tradeoff you should be willing to make to this rule is: write the executive summary first, and, eventually and with parsimony, rewrite it when the proposal is done.

The Executive Summary Format

How to better write your executive summary

Your executive summary should contain your value proposition, which should be seized right away by your reader.

It is highly recommended that you to read the suggestions below in order to write a proper and successful executive summary. When you write your value proposition, use representation instead of marketing puffery or commercial fluff.

  1. Identify 3 main benefits, no more, no less, that your executive summary will cover, putting them in descending order of importance, the way they will appear in your document body, because you want to grab the reader's attention as early as possible.
  2. For each benefit, write a simple, declarative, and persuasive sentence by applying the S.P.A. Golden Rule of Thumb for your value proposition:
    1. State your benefit, by acknowledging your customer's needs, which grabs their interest;
    2. Prove your statement, by giving your customer several references (examples of past performance, clients, case studies, white papers, etc.)
    3. Apply your benefit to your customer, by unveiling the real value that not only your customer but the whole organization can get out of your offer.

    You will build credibility, therefore, give confidence to your customer for making the right decision.
  3. Very few proposals call their reader for action. Ask your customer for action. It's not the time and place to be shy. You're here to have your offer selected, so use one of the action verbsin your action proposition to show the path of enlightenment to your customer.
  4. Write your executive summary for the best readability, i.e. the lowest grade level possible. This way, you insure no barrier hampers your reader to fully understand your point.
  5. Correct, edit, and revise your executive summary only when you're finished writing it.
  6. Since things sometimes get a little more complicated than usual, remember to consult a lawyer for further information before considering your executive summary as definitive.

By following this executive summary format as an executive summary template for your proposal, you ensure your writing to be as persuasive as possible.

Tips about writing an Executive Summary

Here are some tips on how to write your executive summary, and how not to write it.

Do's and Don'ts of Executive Summary:

  • Be persuasive (follow the executive summary format: state, prove, apply)
  • Don't be demonstrative (don't focus on features)
  • Write your executive summary with active-voice sentences
  • Keep a strong, enthusiastic, and proactive language
  • Convert passive-voice sentences as much as possible
  • Write simple, short sentences intended to be read by an executive
  • Keep your executive summary short (1 page for every 20-50 pages)
  • Don't provide unnecessary, technical details, remember, an executive should be able to read it
  • Avoid excessive jargon, and write the definition first
  • Correct spelling, punctuation, style, and grammar errors
  • Write primarily for your customer, not for yourself (use their organization's name more often than yours), so don't start with a description of your organization
  • Write primarily about your customer (benefits), not about you or your product (features)


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